Louis Murphy caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Bruce Gradkowski with nine seconds remaining, his second score in the final 5 1/2 minutes, and the Oakland Raiders scored three late touchdowns to stun Pittsburgh 27-24 on Sunday and deal the Steelers their fourth consecutive loss.
The Steelers (6-6), in danger of missing the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl for a second time in four seasons, went ahead 24-20 on Ben Roethlisberger's 11-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward with 1:56 remaining, only to have the Raiders (4-8) rally and win it.
Pittsburgh, seemingly in good position to secure a high seed in the AFC playoffs after starting 6-2, has lost to two of the NFL's worst teams in the last three weeks, the Chiefs (3-9) and the Raiders.
They now have virtually no chance to catch the Bengals (9-3) in the AFC North, with four games remaining and Cincinnati owning the tiebreaker.
It was the fifth time in six losses that the Steelers couldn't hold a lead in the fourth quarter _ and, in this one, they led three times in the final quarter at 10-6, 17-13 and 24-20.
After three quarters in which there was little scoring _ the Steelers led 10-6 at the end of three _ and long stretches of inactivity and crowd indifference, the fourth quarter suddenly become a back-and-forth duel between revived offenses in which the lead changed five times in the final 8 1/2 minutes.
Gradkowski, under such a heavy pass rush during a 31-0 loss with Cleveland in Pittsburgh last December that he completed only two passes and had a 1.0 passer rating, went 20 of 33 for 308 yards and three TDs, all in the fourth quarter. Gradkowski, whose passer rating this time was 121.8, connected with Chaz Schilens on a 17-yard scoring pass with 8:21 remaining to give Oakland its first lead at 13-10.
That was only the start of it.
The Raiders, who scored only 49 points in their first five road games and were next to last in the NFL in offense, fell behind 17-13 on Rashard Mendenhall's 3-yard TD run. Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes on a 57-yard completion the play before during Pittsburgh's second two-play touchdown drive of the game. Roethlisberger was uneven for three quarters in his return from a one-game layoff with a concussion while going 18 of 24 for 278 yards and two TDS.
Pittsburgh had gone ahead 10-3 early in the second quarter on Holmes's 34-yard catch, one play after Roethlisberger's 27-yard hookup with Ward.
But Oakland, suddenly looking like the risk-it-Raiders teams of the 1960s and 1970s under George Blanda and Daryle Lamonica, answered themselves when Murphy got behind Ike Taylor on a 75-yard touchdown pass. Suddenly, Oakland was ahead again 20-17 with 5:28 to go.
Nope, wasn't over yet.
The Steelers appeared to have secured it when they drove 80 yards in seven plays for Ward's touchdown, but that only gave Gradkowski the chance to beat an AFC North team for the second time in three weeks. He led the Raiders to a 20-17 upset of Cincinnati in his first start two games ago.
Gradkowski, keeping the decisive 82-yard drive going with a third-and-10 completion to Todd Watkins for 12 yards, found Murphy for 19 yards to the Steelers 40 and 17 yards to the 23. Gradkowski missed Johnnie Lee Higgins near the goal line, but a late-hit penalty on backup safety Ryan Mundy gave Oakland a first down at the 11. One play later, Murphy got free behind Mundy _ playing only because Troy Polamalu (left knee) missed a third consecutive game _ for the game-winner.
With the Raiders and Steelers playing in Pittsburgh 17 days shy of the 37th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, Roethlisberger threw into the end zone from the 50 on the final play, but Hiram Eugene knocked the ball down. No miracle finish this time.
Two failed drives in the first half ended up costing the Steelers.
They gambled on fourth-and-1 at the Raiders 5 at the end of the first quarter, but Roethlisberger was stacked up by Sam Williams and Richard Seymour and didn't get it. Later, Roethlisberger forced the ball into triple coverage and Eugene intercepted it in the end zone with 59 seconds left in the half.
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